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Focus - drivers, drink, dehydration 17 Dec 2004

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren prepares for the race - which would result in his first win.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang, Malaysia, 23 March 2003

They may be taking a break now, but the drivers will soon be back in training for the start of the 2005 season. It begins with three of the hottest races on the calendar - Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain.

As well as the usual high G-forces they are subjected to on the track, the drivers must also contend with extremely high temperatures and humidity – something they go to great lengths to adapt to.

"The drivers are working in a cockpit environment that can be over 50 degrees centigrade, a situation where dehydration will impact performance and concentration levels,” explained Mark Arnell, personal trainer to Kimi Raikkonen.

In anticipation of this, the majority of the drivers travel to the region at least several days in advance of the race in order to acclimatise themselves to the searing heat. For example, in 2004 Raikkonen and then McLaren team mate David Coulthard went training ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix in nearby Thailand.

"It takes the body around 10 days to get use to heat with the majority of adaptation occurring within the first three to four days," added Arnell.

Among the biggest challenges for the teams’ trainers is to control the drivers’ fluid levels to ensure that they do not get dehydrated before and during the race – something which could lead to a loss of vital concentration and co-ordination.

“Our aim over the period of time leading up to the race is to try to get the body used to taking in more fluids, whilst during the race weekend itself we just try to ensure that we re-hydrate the drivers after free practice, qualifying and the race as effectively as possible," explained Arnell.

Out on track many factors combine to elevate a driver’s body temperature: high ambient temperatures, the muscular effort of driving the car, the effect of the fireproof overalls, the helmet, the enclosed cockpit space, heat from the engine and radiant heat from the sun.

"The body lowers its temperature through sweating and drivers can lose up to 2kg during an F1 race, losing up to a litre of fluid per hour,” explained Glen Lindsay, a physiotherapist with Jordan. “In order to recover they have to drink more than they have lost, to allow for kidney function, so for example to replace a litre of lost fluid a driver would have to consume 1.5 litres."

And it is not just how much they drink that matters, but what they drink. For example, drinking just water in this type of environment can actually dehydrate a driver further.

"The type of drink is important as it should provide energy as well as replace fluid, especially where a race lasts longer than an hour,” said Lindsay. “In this situation isotonic drinks, which have the same electrolyte concentration as the body, are useful. However in hotter climates, where sweat loss is greater, hypotonic drinks are perhaps more appropriate as rapid fluid replacement takes priority."

And if you a think a driver can rely purely on his own body to tell him when to drink, you would be very much mistaken. “On race day I encourage drivers to drink little and often, monitoring their hydration levels regularly,” said Lindsay.

“In fact feeling thirsty is not the best indicator because by the time you experience thirst, the body is already dehydrated. Basically it's my job to keep a drink bottle in the drivers' faces at all times!"